Uncertainty gnawed at Mehran Shirazi on Sunday.
The PhD engineering student at Simon Fraser University had hoped to visit his brother in New York this year, but those plans have been scuttled for now after the U.S. imposed temporary travel restrictions on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, where Shirazi is from.
Shirazi, who is a permanent resident of Canada and holds only an Iranian passport, isn’t sure whether he’d make it across the border.
“It’s a little sad that people are punished because of the place they were born,” he said.
It’s a little sad that people are punished because of the place they were born
Shirazi’s comments reflect the mass confusion and outrage sowed this weekend by a sweeping immigration order by U.S. President Donald Trump that barred citizens from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days.
Even after the Trudeau government gave its assurance that Canadian passport holders, including dual citizens, as well as permanent Canadian residents, were exempt from the travel ban, the question still lingered for many who had trips planned: is it safe to travel?
Toronto’s Mehrdad Hariri, CEO of the Canadian Science Policy Centre, has a Canadian passport but is still unsure whether he will attend a conference in Boston in two weeks.
HandoutToronto’s Mehrdad Hariri, CEO of the Canadian Science Policy Centre, has a Canadian passport but is still unsure whether he will attend a conference in Boston in two weeks.
Hariri, a dual citizen of Canada and Iran, said he worries U.S. customs officers could still give him a rough time because of where he was born, just like what happened in the months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“I missed flights, they questioned me for hours,” he said. “We don’t know how the policy is being implemented at the gates at the airports…. I am still very cautious.”
Members of the Iranian-Canadian community said they had heard anecdotal reports of people facing extensive questioning at U.S. airports but those reports could not be verified.
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Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said Sunday he would advise people like Hariri to wait a couple days before traveling to the U.S. if they can.
“I would urge them to proceed with caution and perhaps to wait a day or two so that the instructions reach the local level,” he said. “It is clear that the whole issuance of the executive order was poorly handled by the U.S. administration who had obviously not thought through all of the consequences.”
Meanwhile, the leaders of over 150 Canadian tech firms and tech incubators issued a public letter calling on the Trudeau government to make special accommodations — in the form of temporary-residency visas — for any individuals denied entry into the U.S.
“Canadian tech companies understand the power of inclusion and diversity of thought, and that talent and skill know no borders…. By embracing diversity, we can drive innovation to benefit the world,” read the letter signed by executives from companies including Shopify, Wealthsimple, and OMERS Ventures.
Aaron Brindle, a Google Canada spokesman, said in an email more than 100 Google employees were affected by the ban, though he wouldn’t say exactly how.
“Our engineers work on global teams building products that are used by billions of people … Of course we’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families. We’ll continue to make our views on these issues known to leaders in Washington and elsewhere,” he said.
At a press briefing in Ottawa Sunday afternoon, Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s immigration minister, said Canada would provide temporary residency to anyone denied entry into the U.S., but he reported that there were no travellers stranded at Canadian airports.
Hussen added that should any Canadians experience problems entering the U.S., they should seek consular assistance by calling 613-996-8885.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred ChartrandAhmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship gets ready to hold a news conference to update Canadians on the possible impacts of recent immigration-related decisions made by President Donald Trump, in Ottawa on Sunday.
A spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency confirmed that there had been some cases of travellers denied entry to the U.S. and who were being processed by the agency, but she did not say how many. “Some ports of entry have also received individuals seeking refugee status and they are being processed, per usual,” she added.
Much of the confusion this weekend seemed to stem from a statement put out by the U.S. State Department Saturday that the travel ban would encompass dual-citizenship Canadians from one of the seven targeted countries.
That sparked a flurry of social media posts from people who believed they were covered by the ban.
I went to the US 6 times in 2016. 2 or 3 times were for work. I've been in Canada since Grade 8. But I was born in Sudan, so I'm banned.
— Elamin Abdelmahmoud (@elamin88) January 28, 2017
“I went to the US 6 times in 2016. 2 or 3 times were for work. I’ve been in Canada since Grade 8. But I was born in Sudan, so I’m banned,” tweeted Elamin Abdelmahmoud, an editor at BuzzFeed in Toronto.
Reza Zadeh, a professor at Stanford University in California and CEO of tech company Matroid, tweeted: “Just paid for the health insurance of my American employees. As a Canadian-Iranian with an EB-1 Green Card, now not allowed into US. Weird.”
Some outside the U.S. panicked about whether they’d be able to reconnect with loved ones in the U.S. Waldman said he received a call from an Iranian-born Canadian woman who has a green card in the U.S. She is currently travelling in Europe and was worried whether she would be able to reunite with her husband and children.
For a time, questions swirled about whether Canada’s immigration minister, who was born in Somalia, would even be able to enter the U.S., but a spokeswoman brushed aside any concerns.
And late Saturday, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office provided a bit of relief. It said that Daniel Jean, Canada’s national security advisor, had spoken to his American counterpart confirming that dual citizens were not affected by the ban.
Jean told reporters Sunday he didn’t think the U.S. government understood all of the consequences of the travel ban before signing it.
“It’s incredible to see how many people are rediscovering the comfort and also the power of collective anger,” Abdelmahmoud wrote in a follow-up tweet. “It’s quite a thing to see.”